By Nancy Churnin

(MCT)

Bullying is a continuing problem for kids, and it can be deadly serious: As recently as April, two 11-year-old boys from different cities committed suicide after being bullied.

Two experts on the problem — Patti Criswell , a licensed social worker and author who helped design American Girl's Stop the Bullying program, and Ashley Macchia , a facilitator with Pathways in Dallas, who has worked with victims of bullying — recently took part in an online chat. Here are highlights:

Q: What should schools be doing to try to keep bullying from happening?

Criswell: So much! Every school should have a protocol and should take hate-based language seriously. Programs should start in early elementary, and character education should be woven in at every level. My child screamed at me not to report (bullying) because "her life would be hell."

Macchia: Yes, many kids are afraid to report it because they think it will make it worse and the adults can't do anything about it. It is unfortunate that some schools don't take it as seriously as it needs to be ... Don't stop with the counselor. If you need to, contact the principal, superintendent, school board.

Q: Why don't kids who witness bullying come forward?

Criswell: Because early on they have been told to mind their own business — a terrible thing to say to a child ...

Macchia: Some kids are afraid ... that they may become targets themselves or that there is nothing they can do about it. I've worked with some children whose friends dropped them once the bullying started because they didn't want to be drawn into it. ... Parents can model how to intervene on behalf of people who are being victimized or at least talk to their children about what they could do if they saw someone being bullied.

Q: Do you think it might be a good idea to start anti-bullying clubs at school?

Macchia: YES! That is another way for kids to feel empowered. ... Kids also feel heard when they get to tell their stories.